Professional Development

Professional Development Plans: Turning Your Job Into a Career

This past Thursday, I watched a Live Meeting webcast by Andy Warren (Twitter | Blog) on Building a Comprehensive Professional Development Plan. Thanks to Jorge Segarra (Twitter | Blog) for organizing it. The recording can be found here.

Andy provides a lot of great food for thought and I highly recommend taking time to watch it. I won’t simply regurgitate it all here. But here are a few of the key points I wanted to focus on:

  • No one is going to build your career for you. You have to take ownership of that yourself.
  • Building your career requires resources like time and sometimes money. The key is to find a balance that prevents burnout and makes the best use of the funds you have available.
  • Writing is important. The ability to convey your ideas and share your knowledge well can go a long way toward building your brand.
  • Networking can be a very important part of increasing awareness of your brand. You may even find yourself a good mentor in the process.

At Digineer, the consulting firm I work for, we have formal Professional Development Plans. That is one of the  many aspects I love about Digineer: they want their employees to continue to grow and develop and they provide support in doing just that.

I want to stress that the idea of a PDP is not just for technical folks. In my opinion, one can apply a PDP in pretty much any industry or area of focus.

Before I get into my own PDP, I think it makes sense to explain a bit about what my overall goals are as a person. You will see later that my PDP goals tie in well with my personal goals.

The following poem on Success is actually a very accurate depiction of my general goals for myself in life. I think people who know me well will be able to see my behavior and attitude represented in these lines. This poem is often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson; although there is some controversy about that.

To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people 
   and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics 
   and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better,
   whether by a healthy child,
   a garden patch
   or a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier
   because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

My PDP has both short-term and long-term goals. I find it helps if I have some goals that are more immediate so that I can prioritize and keep myself going. I have also taken long term goals and broken them up into component parts as short term goals. That way, my short term goals can essentially provide the roadmap to my long term goals, allowing me to make progress in strides and effectively track that progress.

My most immediate short term goal is to pass the MCTS SQL Server 2008  Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance (70-448) exam by June 30th 2010. I want to point out that the true goal is not merely passing the exam and getting a cert, but rather to learn the material. Taking the exam is merely the measurement of how I have learned that material. And, when all is said and done, certifications certainly don’t hurt. Note: One of the reasons I have June 30th as a deadline is that June 30th also happens to be the deadline for the free retake as part of the Second Shot promotion. I take my first shot on June 1st.

The long term goal I wish to share is a lofty one. The following quote comes from here:

“The MVP Award recognizes exceptional technical community leaders from around the world who voluntarily share their deep, real-world knowledge about Microsoft technologies with others.”

Like with my certification goal above, the credential itself is not the real goal. Rather, it is the measurement of accomplishing my true goals. The MVP jacket is cool, as is the MVP logo you can put on your blog and in your email auto signature; but it’s not about any of that. If I can earn the right to be an MVP, then that means that I have, on a professional level, accomplished many of the the goals I have in life within the SQL community:

  • Win the respect of intelligent people
  • Earn the appreciation of honest critics 
  • Know even one life has breathed easier because I have helped them through my blog, a presentation, twitter, client engagements, etc

My plan for achieving this goal involves several steps, which map to the points gleaned from Andy’s PDP presentation.

I am taking charge of my own career by spending resources improving my knowledge and skills within SQL Server. In addition to reading blogs and attending meetings at my local chapter of PASS (PASSMN), I also attended SQL Saturday Chicago (which was a great means of networking as well a source of quality information). While the registration for the event itself was free, i did incur travel and lodging costs for my time in Chicago. And I have to say my experience was worth every penny and then some.

In terms of writing, I have established the blog you are currently reading. While I don’t post as often as I would like, I am working on that.

In terms of networking, don’t underestimate the power of “social media.” The SQL community on Twitter is remarkable. While many people do use twitter for just inane banter and letting all of their followers know every time they sit down, stand up, go to the bathroom, breathe, etc, the SQL community is a shining example of using Twitter for broadcasting relevant, quality information. I evangelize Twitter within my own area whenever I can. It is through my blog and presenting that I am building my own brand. It is through Twitter that I am building awareness of that brand.

By monitoring the #sqlhelp hash tag on Twitter, I have also had opportunities to help others in the community. That is not only a fantastic way to reach out for help, but also a way to make an impact by helping out someone else.

I am also currently preparing my abstract for a presentation submission for the PASS Summit in November. I have presented at PASSMN a few times and also within Digineer, as well. Presentations can help you to build your brand and are an awesome excuse to dig deeper into a topic that interests you.

All of these steps are the means by which I am attempting to become a technical community leader who shares deep, real-world knowledge about SQL Server with others. Hm…sound familiar?

I agree with Andy that establishing and maintaining a Professional Development Plan is a great way drive your own future. This goes for non-technical folks as well. I believe that a PDP, and the investment of time (and sometimes money) toward achieving the goals within, is a fantastic step toward turning you job into a career.

Categories: Professional Development

Tagged as: , ,

12 replies »

  1. Mark, I’m glad you found the presentation useful, and if you get a chance, hope you’ll write more about the PDP process you have with your employer. Presentations and blogging are a great way to build the foundation to your long term goal, just keep at it!


  2. Nice summary, your post was the reason I watched the presentation by Andy and it was great. I totally agree in all of this and often and dismayed when I try and get folks that work directly for me to see the power this type of plan has and they simply want nothing to do with it. Nice job and I look forward to seeing updates as you progress throughout the year.


  3. Great post. I am finding myself in the same boat trying to develop myself and do more to build my own brand. This is some great advice!


  4. Thanks so much, Andy. I plan to keep updating my blog regarding my progress. I am fortunate to have an employer that really cares about us that way. Thanks for all you do for the SQL Community.


  5. Thanks Keith. I’m glad you watched it; and glad I was able to help steer you that way. It is certainly a topic I feel strongly about. If I can help inspire someone else to create their own PDP, that would totally rock!


  6. Great post. I am finding myself in the same boat trying to develop myself and do more to build my own brand. This is some great advice!


  7. Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favorite
    reason appeared to be on the internet the easiest thing to be
    aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while people consider worries that they just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks


  8. Having read this I thought it was really informative.

    I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put
    this content together. I once again find myself spending way too
    much time both reading and leaving comments. But so
    what, it was still worth it!